WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced lawsuits against seven adults – including a former D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) employee and two current D.C. public charter school employees – for falsifying District residency to send their children to D.C. public schools for free. In these suits, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that these individuals broke District law by sending their children to District schools without paying required out-of-state tuition. In addition, one of the complaints alleges that one parent also committed fraud to receive public benefits payments. The suits seek more than $700,000 total in unpaid tuition or benefits, costs and penalties.
“Residency fraud not only cheats our taxpayers, but it also hurts District children who play by the rules, and frequently rely on the school lottery process to attend the schools of their choice,” said AG Racine. “Our office will continue to bring actions against any individuals who try to fraudulently take advantage of free schooling for District students.”
Parents, guardians, or eligible caregivers who are District residents can send their children to the District’s traditional public or public charter schools free of charge. Non-residents can apply to send their children to District schools, but they must pay non-resident tuition, which typically costs between $10,000 and $14,000 per year. However, in most cases, even non-residents willing to pay non-resident tuition are not typically admitted to a District school if there are D.C. residents on that school’s waiting list.
Under the District’s False Claims Act, it is illegal to knowingly make false statements to conceal, avoid, or decrease an obligation to pay the District. It is also illegal to knowingly cover up or avoid an obligation to pay the District, even if you do not make any false statements yourself. The District can seek to recover up to triple the amount of unpaid tuition that is owed if a court agrees. The law also allows OAG to obtain civil penalties and recoup expenses incurred in pursuing tuition fraud cases. This means that non-residents who send their children to District schools and do not pay the required tuition could face extremely steep costs if they are found liable for non-resident tuition fraud.
OAG has independent authority to investigate and take legal action under the False Claims Act. OAG works collaboratively with District agencies that regulate non-resident tuition; those agencies perform initial investigations and refer cases of suspected residency fraud to the Attorney General. If OAG receives an allegation of residency fraud through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), DCPS, public charter schools, or other channels, the agency independently investigates the case to determine whether there is fraud and if additional legal action is appropriate.
Residency Fraud Lawsuits
OAG filed four separate suits against six parents who fraudulently claimed to be District residents while living in Maryland to send their children to District schools for free. One of the suits also names as a defendant a child’s grandparent who participated in a scheme to send his grandchildren to District schools fraudulently. The suits allege that the parents:
- Falsified D.C. residency to send their children to District schools: All the parents named in the lawsuits lived in Maryland at the time they sent their children to District schools. The parents lied about being D.C. residents, sent their children to District schools, and failed to pay out-of-state tuition.
- Lied repeatedly in documents attesting to D.C. residency to avoid paying non-resident tuition: Each year, parents who send their children to D.C. schools are required to submit enrollment forms and residency verification forms for each of their children. These parents used District addresses at which they did not live on the official forms and signed sworn statements attesting that they lived in the District. Some of these forms included the statement “I understand that providing false information for the purposes of defrauding the government is punishable by law.”
April and Nicholas Fennell
April and Nicholas Fennell are residents of Oxon Hill, Md. Both Fennells are employed by Imagine Hope Community Public Charter School Lamond Campus, where April Fennell is a front desk liaison and Nicholas Fennell is a physical education teacher. The defendants sent their three children to Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School (a DCPS school) and the now-closed Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. During this period, the Fennells claimed on school forms that they lived at a residence in Columbia Heights; however, they were actually living in Maryland. Nicholas Fennell was employed as a behavior technician at Phelps during this time period. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition, damages and penalties from the Fennells that could total as much as $233,944.
A copy of the complaint in D.C. v. Fennell is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-03/Fennells-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Chantese Alston and James Alston
Chantese Alston is currently a resident of the District and formerly a resident of Capitol Heights, Md. James Alston is a resident of Oxon Hill, Md. The Alstons sent their children to a DCPS school (Maury Elementary School) and two D.C. public charter schools (Parkside Middle School and Shining Stars Montessori School) from 2009 through approximately November 2015. Although the Alstons claimed on school forms that their children were living in the District during this time, they actually resided in Maryland. In addition to the tuition residency fraud claims, OAG’s complaint includes allegations that James Alston falsely claimed District residency while receiving Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits during portions of the same period. The District is seeking to recover damages for the cost of falsely obtained benefits, unpaid tuition, and penalties from the Alstons that could total as much as $391,000.
A copy of the complaint in D.C. v. Alston is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-03/Alston-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Asaki, Rasaki, and Rashidat Shittu
Asaki and Rashidat Shittu are sisters who currently reside in Hyattsville, Md. Their father, Rasaki Shittu, is a resident of the District. In two different complaints, OAG alleges that all three family members lied on forms submitted to D.C. school officials, claiming that Asaki and Rashidat Shittu’s children lived at Rasaki Shittu’s address while they actually lived in Maryland. In the first complaint, OAG alleges that Asaki Shittu – who at the time was employed in administrative positions at Noyes Education Campus, a DCPS school in Brookland – and Rasaki Shittu filled out forms that enabled Asaki Shittu’s daughter to attend Noyes tuition-free from 2010 through a portion of the 2013-2014 school year. In her roles with the school, Asaki Shittu handled enrollment matters. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition damages and penalties from Asaki and Rasaki Shittu that could total as much as $66,368.
In the second complaint, OAG alleges that Rashidat Shittu sent her son tuition-free to Noyes during the 2010-2011 school year and from September through November of 2013. The complaint alleges that Asaki Shittu assisted her sister in filing false forms claiming residency in the District while Asaki Shittu was employed at Noyes. The District is seeking to recover $14,950 for unpaid tuition from Rashidat Shittu plus costs.
A copy of the complaint in D.C. v. Asaki and Rasaki Shittu is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-03/Asaki-Rasaki-Shittu-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
A copy of the complaint in D.C. v. Rashidat Shittu is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-03/Rashidat-Shittu-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
OAG’s Work on Residency Fraud
Over the past two years, OAG has devoted additional resources, attorneys, and investigators to fight residency fraud. In February, OAG for participating in residency-fraud schemes. In December, OAG for residency fraud at in-demand District schools like Capitol Hill Montessori and Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Last May, against two non-resident D.C. government employees and one non-resident D.C. public charter school teacher.
Parents with questions about the non-resident tuition enforcement process can find answers to frequently asked questions here: .
Anyone who knows of or suspects residency fraud can submit a tip directly to OAG by email at . They can also submit tips to OSSE by calling (202) 719-6500 or .